I’m 17 years old. I’m standing in a bookshop in a large town near where I live (Slough, as it happens). I’m facing a wall of books at the top of which is a sign that reads Psychology. As I browse the books on display my eye is drawn to one in particular. It’s a book by someone called Eric Berne M.D.and its title is What Do You Say After You Say Hello?
Feeling as self-conscious as I’ve ever felt I reach out and take a copy from the shelf and turn to the back cover to read the summary to find out what it’s about. Because despite feeling so self-conscious, I desperately want an answer to the question in the title. Because for the life of me, I really don’t have a clue.
This was where my journey of self-discovery really began. In some ways a land long ago and far away, but with just a little effort I can reach back to my adolescent self and remember what I felt like back then. It wasn’t good.
Fast forward to now, and it’s no coincidence that I practice as a therapist and coach, with more or less three decades of experience behind me. How did I get here? Early on it was probably more a question of luck than judgement. I trained as a volunteer counsellor within a youth counselling agency after answering an ad in a local paper. I got one or two early breaks with jobs, and later on was able to make more active choices that eventually brought me to where I am now.
It could have been so different.
Figures from the Psychiatric Morbidity Survey show that the proportion of the UK adult population likely to be suffering a ‘common mental disorder’such as anxiety, depression, phobias, mixed anxiety and depression – is around 17%. That’s around nine million adults and a lot potential misery and reduced quality of life.
Whatever Governments may say, physical health and mental health aren’t treated the same. The Improving Access to Psychological Therapy programme in England, when it was established, set out to provide therapies for 15% of the adult population in need. Not all, just 15%. Recent talk of parity in treatment between mental and physical health is just that – talk. Without vast investment it can’t be achieved in any meaningful way.
But not everyone, wants, needs, or even believes in therapy. And many can’t afford to access it privately. So what’s left?
Well, there’s the local bookshop, and self-help has come on a long way since I set out on my journey. There has also been an explosion of online resources, including apps that can be accessed on mobile devices. Some of them are good. I think there’s room for better.